September 20, 2013

Spotlight: Meredith Bardo

The way 1980's comics should have looked.

Meredith Bardo is a young--and shy--talented illustrator from Chicago, taking up the Internet through her Tumblr "Gourmet Scum" with daily posts that combine tender nostalgia with teenage wit and an acute sense of humor, bringing together a subtle satire and an illustrated diary of everyday life that's gaining her an ever increasing number of admirers from all over the world. Meredith's work features essential hand-drawn graphics from her trusted sketchbook, featuring brilliant captions and many references to eighties culture and music (her main inspiration and obsession) together with horror movies.

Whether it's the sarcastic comic version of a bad day, the portrait of a crazy alter ego or a more heartfelt depiction of personal feelings and experiences, Bardo's unique style manages to speak a genuine language that resonates with a wide international fringe of online users moving within a similar cultural horizon. This often encompasses a mixed crowd of sensitive fans of the Cure, the Morrissey-obsessed, Internet-lovers, those who are design-oriented, the angsty and cool, though not necessarily popular, kids. Meredith kindly answered questions about her love for Robert Smith, thoughts on the Internet and the soundtrack to her illustrations.

THE LE SIGH: Did you first discover illustration or the Internet? How do these two components interact within your artistic research?

Meredith Bardo: I think I got into/discovered illustration first, before the Internet pretty much took over my life. A lot of the time, I'd just go to the library and look through the art section; I found some really amazing artists like Gustav Klimt and David Hockney that way. But after I got into the worldwide web, I seriously was bombarded with so much rad and crazy art that I probably never would have found at the library, and it changed my perspective on what illustration and drawing could be. There's so much artistic inspiration on the Internet, so naturally my drawing sort of progressed after getting into art blogs and stuff. It also gave me the confidence to share my work in the first place, because so many other people were posting their art online, I figured I may as well too. And I'm super glad I did because I'm sure I would be nowhere near where I am right now if I hadn't.

TLS: What did it take to get your art where it is now? Was your talent supported or misunderstood?

MB: I've just practiced a lot. I try to draw everyday in my sketchbook, even if it's the lamest little scribble. I like to think of my sketchbooks as little diaries where I can draw a picture about how crap-tastic my day was or maybe make a collage on my current eighties obsession. I always try to make art seem fun and easy-going and I think that's what keeps me progressing! In my high school, only a handful of people were really into art (and not just taking the class because they didn't have enough credits), so most of my other classmates, who were planning on being brain surgeons and engineers, couldn't understand why art even needed to exist. There was even this guy in my English class who tried to tell me van Gogh was a bad painter (!!!). I could definitely feel a disconnection between me and some of my peers, who were a little baffled at the fact that I was going into something where it's harder to get a job. But my close friends and family totally support me, so it's really all I need.

TLS: The people in your life--are they aware of your online success? What do they think?

MB: My dad totally stalks my blog! I can't lie--it's a little creepy when he references my posts, but it's kind of cool he cares what I'm doing. He even made me promise to update my blog when I go to college so he can tell I'm still alive. The rest of my family is a little less creepy; whenever they look at my blog it's just because they want to make fun of me.

TLS: Your illustrations often feel like an abstraction of real events, people and concepts. How much of your life is actually in them?

MB: I'd say quite a lot of my drawings are really based on my life. I scribble a lot of stuff, sometimes about how I feel lame or just sometimes about how great corndogs are, and it's really all based on how I'm feeling that day. Sometimes I make comics where I actually draw myself, but a lot of the time I just like to create wacky characters, like a fun guy with a giant bouffant or a person wearing a cool sweater and sort of make them my alter-ego. I'd like to think my drawings really show my personality and my life, which is just that I don't take myself too seriously and I'm an angsty teen like everyone else.

TLS: How would you describe your creative process? Are you aware of your audience while working on a piece?

MB: My creative process is really just sitting down with my sketchbook, a massive pile of construction paper and a rad eighties movie. I just try to go with the flow and start drawing whatever. I'm aware I have an audience and I'm very thankful that other people like/relate to my drawings, but I draw for myself. If I drew solely for the purpose of maintaining a Tumblr audience, I would probably feel trapped in a rut. I've found lately it's important to experience and try new things and when you draw something that isn't so conventional and people respond to it, it's a really nice feeling.

TLS: Being part of what's still a quite "alternative" channel (the web) to the more traditional dynamics of the art world, what's your take on formal education and training in fine art/illustration?

MB: Seeing as I'm in art school right now, it's pretty awesome. I love the freedom I have on my blog to make whatever, but I also think for me it's essential to have formal education to broaden my horizons and try new things. I'm very excited for this semester because I get to try a little of everything: performance art, digital things--it's crazy! And I know I'm only going to get better. I'm really terrified about critiques though! (I cry very easily...)

TLS: Seeing that you produce printed zines as well, how do you relate to the concepts of digital/virtual and analogue/physical and their respective outputs?

MB: I have to be honest, I have pretty much no idea how to work Photoshop or draw on a tablet. I've always hand-drawn things, and I have mad respect for people who can create cool art using technology. I think right now, digital mediums/outlets are just as important as more traditional art making. They both take a lot of skill! Plus, without blogs, life would probably be terrible.

TLS: Eighties culture seems to be one of your biggest loves and inspirations. Could you name a few personalities you think contributed the most to the developing of your own style?

MB: Well, I have to state the obvious teen queen, Molly Ringwald. Through my extensive watching of pretty much every John Hughes movie ever, Molly's characters are always the characters I wish I was. I mean, who doesn't want their own personal Duckie? She sort of brings out my inner teen; the one who loves to complain and just kind of worries about lame little things. I also get inspired a lot by bad eighties horror movie screen shots. I'm really into drawing bright red blood and ripped limbs lately. I also get inspired by characters from Degrassi Junior high, my favorite being Lucy, who's a feminist and has a fabulous wardrobe of eighties cop tops and dresses. I also have a thing for drawing wacky hair, which stemmed from my love for Morrissey's bouffant and Robert Smith's teased locks. The Cure in general has really been there the whole time I've been posting art and as cheeseball as it sounds, have really shapred my style in terms of just inspiring me to draw out my feelings and sometimes be open (and I just really have a massive crush on Robert Smith). I also sort of recently became a huge fan of Boy George and Culture Club. I watched a lot of his early interviews and Boy George is just completely fab and doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. I seriously could go on and on about him (which I'm sure no one wants), so I'll just say that he totally made me realize it's ok to make fun of yourself but also be confident in what you're doing.

TLS: If your art had a soundtrack, what would it be?

MB: Oh god, this is hard. I suppose for a lot of my more gloomy drawings, I just imagine the whole Pornography album by the Cure playing in the background (which is pretty much the album I listen to exclusively when I want to feel sorry for myself). But for my more wacky sketchbook drawings, I imagine it'd be a playlist of fun eighties dance songs like "The Perfect Kiss" by New Order, "It's a Miracle" by Culture Club, "Rio" by Duran Duran, "Legal Tender" by the B-52's, "Sounds like a Melody" by Alphaville, "Little Girls" by Oingo Boingo, "Cool Places" by Sparks and "Love Action" by the Human League. Pretty much any song with a synthesizer!

TLS: Illustration--will it be a career choice, or are you planning something different? What are your future commitments at the moment?

MB: I definitely want to pursue illustration and hopefully I get somewhere! As far as my future commitments go, I just want to continue making massive amounts of lame art, watch as many bad horror movies as I can and just try to avoid having to live in a box. And if art doesn't work out, I can always do my back-up plan which is open up an eighties memorabilia shop. It'd be a place where you can buy fun mugs with Morrissey's face on it, really cool Robert Smith posters/accessories and t-shirts of any synth-pop band you desire! (I have seriously really thought this through).

See more of Meredith's illustrations here.

Cristiana Bedei, an Italian art historian, proud feminist and Capricorn. Currently studying Digital Journalism at Goldsmiths in London, she's the founder of 10x10 fanzine.